We found a quiet place at the corner of the restaurant to have our lunch. Amy and the girls were at the front, talking with a family she apparently knew. Soon, Story bounced over happily and announced, “This family is going to sit with us and eat!”
“What?!” I responded sharply before thinking. I hadn’t even seen yet who she was talking about. “Why did you invite them over here? I just wanted to eat lunch without socializing!” This didn’t phase Story. Just an annoyed stare at Dad. Then, before Amy could sit down, I put my palms up and asked, “Why do we have to eat with someone else?” Same look from her direction. She said she didn’t know if they would eat with us or not.
I was hoping they would politely bail. But moments later they came over and Amy smiled at the mother and her three children. The woman asked, “Can we sit with you guys?” What happened next was God’s doing.
Amy hadn’t invited strangers to come sit with us — it was someone she knew well from church. And, as I soon discovered, they were intimately acquainted with our preparations for launching into the mission field. She was both highly aware of our journey and honestly curious. This was completely disarming. And, they were the sweetest family ever. Which made it hard to stay in my shell.
First, the two mothers were talking. Before I knew it, I was engaged in the conversation and was really enjoying it. Then I thought about something. In the fundraising presentations we’ve made, I told people we would be building relationships in cafes, on university campuses, in refugee communities, and in people’s homes. How would this even happen if all I wanted to do is enjoy my space and not socialize? I’ve been telling people we will encourage our children to be natural bridge-builders in Italy in the hopes that we can meet families and make disciples. But, if I was upset with my daughter for inviting a family to our table here, how would I encourage her any better in Italy?
Then something else hit me. In this situation, Amy and the children seemed far ahead of me in terms of preparing for making disciples in Italy. Their hearts are wide open. They don’t hesitate to invite people in. I was the only one at this table showing signs of hesitation. Maybe I was being the squeaky wheel when I needed to be setting the pace for them.
Before they left, the mother asked if she could subscribe to our blog. Really this was God winking at me. So, dear friend, if you’re reading this I hope you’re smiling. My struggle was not about you. It was me. God used our conversation to remind me that being part of the family of God is a divine challenge to go beyond our personal space. So is obeying the Great Commission. Building bridges begins when we let people in. And, I have as much to learn from my children as I hope to teach them.
It’s really amazing that God would call someone who is energized by time alone to enter such a passionate and expressive culture as Italy. Where people kiss you on both cheeks. Where people stand inches from you to talk. Where community is life. From God’s perspective this struggle I was having at the table over my invaded space must have been funny.
On a deeper level, He knows I need challenges like this to bring out in me the man I was destined to be. In a certain sense, I am completely justified in saying God created me this way. And, never do I feel condemned by Him for being an introvert. After all, he brought Amy into my life — a person who loves me despite being my social polar opposite. Through my marriage, God reaffirmed his introverted servant.
I’m a different man than I used to be, not because God took away my introverted personality. But because God stretched this introvert to a point where I allowed the community in. To be honest, it’s a little scary to consider how much more God will stretch me but exciting too. My only prayer is that I will be willing.